In April of 2018, a team of dedicated faculty and staff decided to get their hands dirty and establish a new space for the community along the northwest corner of the Northwest Campus next to the Marine Creek Reservoir. The 5-acre plot of land had been used as overflow parking before Dean of Math and Sciences (then, Professor of Biology), Greta Bowling, and her team developed the “Pocket Prairie” into what would eventually become the thriving Marine Creek Nature Discovery Center (MCNDC).
David Cole, horticulture learning lab manager, was recruited early on to realize the vision of the space: A visible locale “of the people” that would provide the community with an opportunity to experience nature in an increasingly digitized and indoor world. Since then, he has grown passionate for the Marine Creek Nature Discovery Center, pouring in his time, energy, and imagination to help it reach its full potential. Cole’s investment of himself into the project leads him to refer to it off-handedly as one of his Horcruxes—a reference to the Harry Potter series where an object is formed by magic to house part of one’s soul. And to hear him tell of the Discovery Center’s journey from inception to what it is today, the term “magic” feels appropriate.
In addition to his innovative “in-house” techniques to keep down costs and steward resources well, Cole mastered the art of what he calls “Golf Cart Farming.” In its early days, the Discovery Center needed a host of treatments: scraping, seeding, irrigating, tilling, composting, and the elimination of invasive plants. Cole spearheaded many of these efforts sitting behind the wheel of his trusty golf cart, either pulling a chain link fence behind him to pack in the seeds of 30 different native wildflowers and grasses into the soil or spraying the plants with the treatments they needed to thrive in the harsh weather conditions of North Texas. Over the years, Cole has led much of the maintenance of the Discovery Center through his recruitment of part-time and student workers to beautify the area through general upkeep and even the installation of an irrigation system as a hands-on project for his Landscape Irrigation students. The collaboration of the team has fostered the Center into a meeting place, an outdoor classroom, and the backdrop of many scenic sunset selfies and leisurely strolls for the community surrounding the Northwest Campus.
Most recently, on February 16th, Cole hosted an MCNDC Workshop where volunteers from the TCC Northwest came together on a particularly cold day to clear the area of dead vines, leaves, and brush. The “regular maintenance,” Cole says, “is important for maintaining the area and keeping it alive and healthy looking.” The team worked to manicure the pollinator garden and add mulch to the beds lining the trail of the winding decomposed granite pathway (which Cole crafted on his golf cart, of course). The workshop primarily functioned to prepare the Center for the upcoming growth of spring, which Cole promised would be a stunning display of wildflowers, given the recent rainfall.
Not only has the Discovery Center provided a beautifully curated park for the community and served as the backdrop for teamwork for people from across the college, but it is also the focus of grand plans for the future: The team envisions erecting a building for facilities and a more formal setting for classes. They also hope to expand the Center’s offerings to include a rock and mineral garden in addition to collaborating with Tarrant Regional Water District to enhance their visibility to Tarrant County. The little Pocket of Prairie, as Dean Bowling likes to call it, is a point of pride for the Northwest Campus, and the little 5-acre plot of land only seems to have more surprises in store for the community that has grown to love it.